463 U.S. 745 (1983), 81-1794, Jones v. Barnes

Docket Nº:No. 81-1794.
Citation:463 U.S. 745, 103 S.Ct. 3308, 77 L.Ed.2d 987
Party Name:Everett W. JONES, Superintendent, Great Meadow Correctional Facility, et al., Petitioners, v. David BARNES.
Case Date:July 05, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 745

463 U.S. 745 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 3308, 77 L.Ed.2d 987

Everett W. JONES, Superintendent, Great Meadow Correctional Facility, et al., Petitioners,

v.

David BARNES.

No. 81-1794.

United States Supreme Court.

July 5, 1983

Argued Feb. 22, 1983.

Petitioner filed petition for habeas corpus based on claim of ineffective assistance [103 S.Ct. 3309] by appellate counsel. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Eugene H. Nickerson, J., denied petition, and appeal was taken. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 665 F.2d 427, Oakes, Circuit Judge, reversed and remanded with directions, and certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Chief Justice Burger, held that defense counsel assigned to prosecute appeal from criminal conviction does not have constitutional duty to raise every nonfrivolous issue requested by defendant.

Reversed.

Justice Blackmun concurred in judgment and filed opinion.

Justice Brennan dissented and filed opinion in which Justice Marshall joined.

[103 S.Ct. 3309] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

After respondent was convicted of robbery and assault in a jury trial in a New York state court, counsel was appointed to represent him on appeal. Respondent informed counsel of several claims that he felt should be raised, but counsel rejected most of the suggested claims, stating that they would not aid respondent in obtaining a new trial and that they could not be raised on appeal because they were not based on evidence in the record. Counsel then listed seven potential claims of error that he was considering including in his brief, and invited respondent's "reflections and suggestions" with regard to those claims. Counsel's brief to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court concentrated on three of the claims, two of which had been originally suggested by respondent. In addition, respondent's own pro se briefs were filed. At oral argument, counsel argued the points presented in his own brief, but not the arguments raised in the pro se briefs. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction. After respondent was unsuccessful in earlier collateral proceedings attacking his conviction, he filed this action in Federal District Court, seeking habeas corpus relief on the basis that his appellate counsel had provided ineffective assistance. The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that under Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 87 S.Ct. 1396, 18 L.Ed.2d 493--which held that an appointed attorney must advocate his client's cause vigorously and may not withdraw from a nonfrivolous appeal--appointed counsel must present on appeal all nonfrivolous arguments requested by his client. The Court of Appeals held that respondent's counsel had not met this standard in that he failed to present certain nonfrivolous claims.

Held: Defense counsel assigned to prosecute an appeal from a criminal conviction does not have a constitutional duty to raise every nonfrivolous issue requested by the defendant. The accused has the ultimate authority to make certain fundamental decisions regarding his case, including the decision whether to take an appeal; and, with some limitations, he may elect to act as his own advocate. However, an indigent defendant has no constitutional [103 S.Ct. 3310] right to compel appointed counsel to press nonfrivolous points requested by the client, if counsel, as a matter of professional judgment, decides not to present those points. By promulgating

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a per se rule that the client must be allowed to decide what issues are to be pressed, the Court of Appeals seriously undermined the ability of counsel to present the client's case in accord with counsel's professional evaluation. Experienced advocates have emphasized the importance of winnowing out weaker arguments on appeal and focusing on one central issue if possible, or at most on a few key issues. Selecting the most promising issues for review has assumed a greater importance in an era when the time for oral argument is strictly limited in most courts and when page limits on briefs are widely imposed. The decision in Anders, far from giving support to the Court of Appeals' rule, is to the contrary; Anders recognized that the advocate's role "requires that he support his client's appeal to the best of his ability." 386 U.S., at 744, 87 S.Ct., at 1400. The appointed counsel in this case did just that. Pp. 3312-3314.

665 F.2d 427 (2nd Cir.1981) reversed.

COUNSEL

Barbara D. Underwood argued the cause for petitioners. With her on the briefs was Elizabeth Holtzman.

Sheila Ginsberg Riesel argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief was Alan Mansfield.*

* Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Jensen, Deputy Solicitor General Frey, Edwin S. Kneedler, and Deborah Watson filed a brief for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal.

J. Vincent Aprile II filed a brief for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Barbara D. Underwood, Brooklyn, N.Y., for petitioners.

Sheila Ginsberg Riesel, New York City, for respondent.

OPINION

Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to consider whether defense counsel assigned to prosecute an appeal from a criminal conviction has a constitutional duty to raise every nonfrivolous issue requested by the defendant.

I

In 1976, Richard Butts was robbed at knifepoint by four men in the lobby of an apartment building; he was badly

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beaten and his watch and money were taken. Butts informed a Housing Authority Detective that he recognized one of his assailants as a person known to him as "Froggy," and gave a physical description of the person to the detective. The following day the detective arrested respondent David Barnes, who is known as "Froggy."

Respondent was charged with first and second degree robbery, second degree assault, and third degree larceny. The prosecution rested primarily upon Butts' testimony and his identification of respondent. 1 During cross-examination, defense counsel asked Butts whether he had ever undergone psychiatric treatment; however, no offer of proof was made on the substance or relevance of the question after the trial judge sua sponte instructed Butts not to answer. At the close of trial, the trial judge declined to give an instruction on accessorial liability requested by the defense. The jury convicted respondent of first and second degree robbery and second degree assault.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Second Department, assigned Michael Melinger to represent respondent on appeal. Respondent sent Melinger a letter listing several claims that he felt should be raised. 2 Included were claims that Butts' identification testimony should have been suppressed, that the trial judge improperly excluded psychiatric evidence, and that respondent's trial counsel was ineffective. Respondent also enclosed a copy of a pro se brief he had written.

In a return letter, Melinger accepted some but rejected most of the suggested [103 S.Ct. 3311] claims, stating that they would not aid

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respondent in obtaining a new trial and that they could not be raised on appeal because they were not based on evidence in the record. Melinger then listed seven potential claims of error that he was considering including in his brief, and invited respondent's "reflections and suggestions" with regard to those seven issues. The record does not reveal any response to this letter.

Melinger's brief to the Appellate Division concentrated on three of the seven points he had raised in his letter to respondent: improper exclusion of psychiatric evidence, failure to suppress Butts' identification testimony, and improper cross-examination of respondent by the trial judge. In addition, Melinger submitted respondent's own pro se brief. Thereafter, respondent filed two more pro se briefs, raising three more of the seven issues Melinger had identified.

At oral argument, Melinger argued the three points presented in his own brief, but not the arguments raised in the pro se briefs. On May 22, 1978, the Appellate Division affirmed by summary order, New York v. Barnes, 63 App.Div.2d 865, 405 N.Y.S.2d 621 (2d Dept.1978). The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal, New York v. Barnes, 45 N.Y.2d 786, 409 N.Y.S.2d 1044, 381 N.E.2d 179 (1978).

On August 8, 1978, respondent filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Respondent raised five claims of error, including ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The District Court held the claims to be without merit and dismissed the petition. United States ex rel. Barnes v. Jones, No. 78-C-1717 (EDNY, Nov. 27, 1978). The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed, 607 F.2d 994, and we denied a petition for a writ of certiorari, 444 U.S. 853, 100 S.Ct. 109, 62 L.Ed.2d 71 (1979).

In 1980, respondent filed two more challenges in state court. On March 4, 1980, he filed a motion in the trial court for collateral review of his sentence. That motion was denied on April 28, and leave to appeal was denied on October 3. Meanwhile, on March 31, 1980, he filed a petition in the

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New York Court of Appeals for reconsideration of that court's denial of leave to appeal. In that petition, respondent for the first time claimed that his appellate counsel, Melinger, had provided ineffective assistance. The New York Court of Appeals denied the application on April 16, 1980, New York v. Barnes, 49 N.Y.2d 1001, 429 N.Y.S.2d 1029, 406 N.E.2d 1083 (1980).

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